Juventus v Carpi
Serie A Week 36 – Sunday, 1st May – 11:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus’ magical second half of the season reached its apex in the last match day, where the Bianconeri outlasted Fiorentina in a terrific match and then Roma beat Napoli, allowing Allegri’s boys to secure the fifth title in a row. The run that started after the loss at Sassuolo was nothing short of amazing: the team won 24 of its last 25 matches, sweeping aside all its mortal enemies: Torino, Milan, Fiorentina, Roma, Napoli and Inter were all defeated in the triumphant march that led to an incredible turnaround in the standings.
After ten games, Juventus was in 12th position, 11 points behind Roma and 9 behind Fiorentina, Inter and Napoli. 25 matches later, Bianconeri have won the League with three games to go, Napoli is 12 points behind, Roma 14, Inter 19 and Fiorentina 26. A remarkable comeback that would not happened without the leadership of the coach and the veterans, first of all Gianluigi Buffon who does not speak a lot, but everybody listens when he does. He called out his teammates after the Sassuolo game, Juventus won the following one against Torino with a last-minute goal by Juan Cuadrado and the fun started.
In a hypothetical ranking of the five straight titles, this one comes just a little below the first one, simply because we were coming off years of struggles in that case. However, like the “undefeated” one, this is a marvellous feat as well. Only great franchises manage to rebuild on the fly while remaining highly competitive like Juventus did in the summer and the credit goes to the management for finding the right players.
Waiting for the parade, there are still three Serie A games to go before the Coppa Italia final, which would be the cherry on top of the sundae. The team spent most of the week celebrating and champagning so the reports about the lineup are very mixed. It looks like there will be some rotation, but not a complete one.
Giorgio Chiellini missed the last game with a knee sprain and the exams revealed a light MCL tear, with a 15-20 day timetable, according to the official site. He has not played a full game since January 27. He returned thrice but the first time he re-aggravated a calf injury, in the second he picked up a hamstring issue and finally he sprained his knee. Tough luck for him, but his absence was not sorely felt thanks to Daniele Rugani and the masterful defensive organization.
The coach announced some starters: Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele Rugani, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra, Alex Sandro, Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata. The fact that both left backs will play makes it interesting. Andrea Barzagli is likely to rest, so Evra will take his place in the three-man defence. The other battles are pretty much the usual ones: Stephen Lichsteiner vs Juan Cuadrado, Hernanes vs Mario Lemina and Paulo Dybala vs Mario Mandzukic vs Simone Zaza. If Sami Khedira is benched, there are plenty of options to replace him: Stefano Sturaro, Roberto Pereyra, Simone Padoin and Kwadwo Asamoah. The tactical alternative would be 4-4-2 with Sandro and Cuadrado wide in the midfield.
Juventus picked up the option to buy Mario Lemina so he will stay with the club: some other clubs were after him, so the management just decided to play it safe and avoid a further negotiation with Olympique Marseille. Also, they probably did not want to go into next season with too many question marks in a key position where Claudio Marchisio will miss the first chunk of the season. Lemina is a strong defensive presence, but is a little too much deferring in the build-up of the action: he has decent feet and can certainly improve there as he gains experience.
3-5-2: Buffon; Rugani, Barzagli, Evra; Lichsteiner, Sturaro, Hernanes, Pogba, Sandro; Morata, Dybala.
Chiellini (knee); Marchisio (knee), Neto (calf), Caceres (Achilles).
While Juventus are celebrating, Carpi are fighting for their lives in the suburbs of the table. They are in 17th position and they have a three-point lead over Palermo: they must hold on to remain in Serie A. Their schedule is strong on paper but maybe they can steal some points against teams that have already checked out like Bianconeri, Lazio and Udinese. Motivations are key in this moment of the season. I can already see a livid Maurizio Zamparini issuing a furious statement on Monday blasting Juventus for its lack of effort and unsportsmanlike conduct because they let Carpi grab a point.
Carpi had a pretty good second half of the season as well: they collected 21 of their 35 points since January. They are understandably better at home, but they have been able to conquer two wins and six ties on the road, which is more than some superior teams like Atalanta and Genoa have done.
The recipe for their relative success has been simple. In January they brought back as many of their former players as they could, added some midlevel Italians that have been in this position before or that wanted to make a name for themselves in Serie A and let go some footballers that did not buy in or simply were a bad fit for their culture. They changed the sporting director, re-appointed Fabrizio Castori and stuck with him also during some difficult stretches. A change of course in midseason that might see them succeed.
They are up against Palermo who undeniably have better quality throughout the roster but lack that fighting mentality of Biancorossi. However, after a series of ill-advised moves, Zamparini has settled on a coach and Davide Ballardini seems to have found some players that can guide them in this final part of the season: it will be an interesting finale.
Carpi’s strategy is not much different from their Serie B year: they sit back and counter. They crowd the spaces and try to move quickly toward the opponents’ box once they have captured the ball. Castori has used four systems so far: 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 and 3-5-2, at times with a no.10 instead of two strikers.
They usually deploy the most defensive one against the big teams. They have to big absentees due to suspensions: Raffaele Bianco and Lorenzo Lollo, who are their two most creative midfielders. Lollo usually plays behind the striker. The coach has few options to replace them: fielding Raphael Martinho or Jonathan De Guzman in the midfield, alongside the regulars Marco Crimi and Isaac Cofie; Simone Verdi, De Guzman or Antonio Di Gaudio as advanced midfielder.
There are a couple of doubts about the lineup in other areas as well. Fabrizio Poli is a versatile fullback who can play centre-back as well, but at times Cristian Zaccardo has been picked over him in a three-man defence. As for the flanks, Gaetano Letizia, Lorenzo Pasciuti and Stefano Sabelli have all a chance to start. Castori could also go uber defensive by putting Poli or Riccardo Gagliolo as wing back. Watch out for their super sub Kevin Lasagna, who has scored five crucial goals coming off the bench.
3-5-1-1: Belec; Zaccardo, Romagnoli, Gaglilo; Sabelli, Crimi, Cofie, Martinho, Letizia; Verdi; Mbakogu.
Gnahore (head, hip), Bubnjic (knee).